The library as conversation

November 3, 2009 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Are you going to get a Kindle? Have one already? I don’t get it because I prefer to hold the book in my hands. So what’s the future of libraries, stuffed full of wonderfully musty smelling tomes? Does the library have a future at all? Will it be full of Kindles that can be loaned out? If they eventually come in hot pink, I might be tempted 🙂

I came across this fantastic presentation and audio from R. David Lankes, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, which provides insights into the future of libraries and librarianship. He starts off with a fairly confronting statement:

“(Librarians) have become so busy and adept at keeping the library efficient and well-managed that we have lacked the space to step back and observe it from a high level”.

And then goes on to say that: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities“.  So it’s not about books and collections. I remember when I first started my career in knowledge management there was a lot of angst over whether librarians were information managers whilst knowledge managers were some sort of more evolved species dealing with knowledge (and some dudes even call themselves “wisdom architects”, which if you believe the twaffle of the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom pyramid, is the most evolved of all species).

But now I think we’ve reached the point in the debate where we can say that we are all doing the same thing, albeit concentrating on different aspects. So records managers, information managers, knowledge managers – we’re all attempting to facilitate knowledge creation, transfer and continuity. The fact that records managers concentrate on retention and compliance whilst knowledge managers may focus on collaboration and decision-making are simply different lenses looking at the same thing. In fact, my KM colleague, Baoman, has a well-crafted reflection piece on his blog in which he ponders this very subject, inspired by gentleman and scholar, Patrick Lambe.

So I very much liked Lankes’ vision for the mission of librarians (not libraries note) and that knowledge and learning is created through conversation and conversation theory. Conversation theory consisting of:

  • language
  • memory
  • conversants – exchanging language
  • agreements – between conversants (even if it’s agreeing not to agree)

So he’s suggesting that librarians are in the conversation business and need to be facilitators of conversations. Lankes uses the term “participatory librarianship” and says that participatory librarians “seek to enrich, capture, store and disseminate the conversations of their communities”. Further, he queries the rigidity of catalogues when users are now familiar with tagging and folksonomies and asks – how do we build systems that all users can use and he looks at social networking sites (where users build the system around themselves and their own language). Users now construct an open discovery space.

Lankes also emphasises that skills change eg cataloguing skills and that library education should equip a librarian for change. And this means librarians as activists, lobbying for change, innovating and proactively serving the community. He believes the best days of librarianship are ahead of us not behind us. To get maximum benefit out of the presentation, listen to the audio. Almost makes me want to go back into librarianship.

Also, check out Lankes’ website, which basically provides you with a Participatory Librarianship Starter Kit (articles, presentations and webcasts). Great stuff!


Entry filed under: Information management, Knowledge Management, Librarians, Libraries, Library 2.0.

Open wallets Future of learning

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Katie  |  November 6, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks for this great post! I have my MLIS and am helpin to spearhead knowledge management in my organization through innovations and social networking to open limes of communication. Your shift in thinking is encouraging to hear and i’d be very interested in connecting with other like-minded librarians, knowledge managers, and change agents for best practice sharing. I’m on Twitter @sexton3564.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  November 13, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Katie
    Have linked up with you on Twitter. I think the library profession is recasting the “question” – how librarians can make a difference and contribute to society, improve society etc.


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